Students at Catholic schools in western suburbs walking to enhance fitness

Thursday, October 11, 2007
By David Guo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There are maybe 30 of them between the day's first class and second, 48 from the school driveway to the church's parking lot. A good-morning jackpot of 100 lies at the front door, one student reveals, for anyone who walks there from the school bus drop point.

Hmmm. Maybe those 48 steps to Mass every Wednesday should be worth a bonus, these students at SS Simon and Jude School in Scott figure, since they're all uphill and sport multiple stoops.

The pedometers arrived Oct. 1 at the school on Greentree Road as part of the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield "We Count" program, a partnership with the Diocese of Pittsburgh aimed at enhancing fitness for 6,500 students in 33 schools.

Others in the western suburbs include: Elizabeth Seton, Sheraden; Holy Child, Bridgeville; Our Lady of Grace, Scott; St. John the Baptist, Monaca; and St. Titus, Aliquippa.

It's been a walk-a-thon ever since, as students with pedometers tucked on their belts check their readouts like quarter-milers sweating through a track workout.

The fun is led by the eighth-graders who helped design a giant poster chart to track each class's progress during the next 18 weeks.

One of the Week One leaders is James Pozycki, 13, of Banksville, who's racked up 3,247 steps, thanks to cross-country practice. He makes sure to keep the device on whenever possible.

"When I'm at home, I'm always outside, walking or running. Sometimes it gives you more or less than you think, but it's pretty good," he said of the pedometer's accuracy. "About every period I check it."

That 3,247 tally duly impresses his friend Ryan Jenkins, 13, of Scott, he of a mere 2,066 steps.

"Gee, you're killing me," he said.

Meanwhile, Abra Dadum, 13, of Dormont, is trailing with 1,568 steps. But not to worry, she said, because a couple days of soccer practice should do the trick. Like James, she said it's fun checking to see how many steps various activities rack up and comparing notes with other students.

"We want to see who gets the highest. It's fun competition," Abra said.

Sister Norman Zanieski, principal of SS Simon and Jude, said she is happy the school and about 160 students were chosen for the program that aims to lessen obesity in children.

A diocesan educator for "eons," or 36 years in Ebensburg, Cambria County, Natrona Heights, Baden and Scott, she said there's no question that "The kids are not as active as they used to be."

Hide and seek used to be the pastime of choice, whereas nowadays kids play video games. To make her point, she raises her hands in that too-familiar, double-yoke game-controller pose and says, "Yes, I know what it is, Atari or something like that. They just sit around and put themselves in front of a TV."

Diocesan education consultant Mike Killmeyer, who is coordinating the grant, called the program "a wonderful opportunity to enhance our Diocesan Physical Activity and Nutritional Policy."

"We have been working with all of our schools to try to find ways to increase the amount of physical activity throughout the day,'' he said. "We believe that the 'We Count' pedometer program can greatly aid us in that task."

In addition to pedometers, each of the participating schools received curriculum materials that reinforce the lessons and help the students set a tangible goal.

Mr. Killmeyer said the individual schools will track the number of steps each child walks during the 18-week program. Sister Zanieski added that the results will cross over into a computer lesson, too, as a teacher helps the students enter the data into a spreadsheet.

"It is our goal that we will see a gradual increase in the average steps walked per child, classroom and school, thus proving that the students' daily physical activity levels are increasing," Mr. Killmeyer said.

Christine Gulakowski of Scott said all three of her children -- Ashlynn , 6, Brady, 9 and Corey, 11 -- have stepped onto the "We Count" bandwagon.

"I think it's made exercise more fun, so it's gotten the kids excited," she said, adding that she is particularly surprised that Ashlynn is so engaged.

"The boys are too, but she puts it on first thing, she's pumped up about it. They don't even realize how much physical fitness they're getting. They're all comparing notes.

"I really think we'll keep with it even after it's over."

One thing's sure: the students had better do more than talk the talk. A sneak peek at Sister Zanieski's pedometer clocked her in at 8,955, bad knee and all.
First published on October 11, 2007 at 9:07 am